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Running

Next year’s Boston Marathon will be postponed, BAA announces, with eye toward Fall 2021 date

Runners head toward the finish line during the 2019 race.
Runners head toward the finish line during the 2019 race.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file

The Boston Marathon will not be held on its traditional Patriots Day date in 2021, the Boston Athletic Association announced Wednesday.

The organization is aiming to reschedule the race for later in the year, possibly in the fall, and plans to announce a new date by the end of 2020.

Organizers cited Massachusetts’s reopening plan, which prohibits road races until the state can enter Phase 4, as one of the reasons for the postponement. Earlier this month, state officials allowed some lower-risk communities to move to Phase 3, Step 2 of the plan.

“By shifting our focus to a fall date, we can continue to work with stakeholders to adjust the in-person experience for runners and supporters alike," Tom Grilk, CEO of the BAA, said in a statement.

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Part of the work of the BAA will be to determine if a fall 2021 date is even “feasible,” according to the release. Organizers are also exploring a weekend date or reduced field size.

For elite runner and Cambridge resident Molly Seidel, postponing the Boston Marathon provides some hope that the event will feature a modicum of the energy and enthusiasm that has made it one of the world’s most iconic road races.

“There’s no other race like it,” said Seidel, who placed sixth at the London Marathon on Oct. 4.

Molly Seidel races at the London Marathon earlier this month.
Molly Seidel races at the London Marathon earlier this month.John Sibley/Associated Press

“I’ve never run [Boston] but I’ve watched it every year. [The BAA] might have to remove some of the pomp and circumstance when they hopefully have it in the fall. I’d personally rather wait and get some of that energy and excitement, because it’s a one-of-a-kind race.”

Seidel, a former NCAA champion and member of the US Olympic Marathon team, ran a personal best in London, which was held only for elite runners with limited spectators. While at the event, she heard that the 2021 London Marathon would likely be pushed to next fall in the hopes of adding runners and spectators, so Seidel wasn’t surprised to hear the BAA announcement.

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“The major marathons rely on each other to figure out what’s going to work,” said Seidel. “Neither [the] Tokyo [Marathon] nor London could go [next spring] and Boston took their cue.

“With Boston kind of being the last one standing, it was kind of a matter of when, not if, it would be moved.”

More than 31,500 runners were expected to participate in the 2020 race before it was postponed in March.

In May, the BAA canceled the race for the first time in the event’s 124-year history. In its place, the BAA conducted the “Boston Marathon Virtual Experience” and had 15,972 participants in 83 countries run 26.2 miles on their own.

The Boston Marathon, perennially held on the third Monday in April, has been estimated in the past by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau to contribute more than $200 million into the Boston economy. Thousands of runners descend on the area, joined by even more spectators who gather along the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boylston Street in the Back Bay to cheer on participants, infusing local businesses and hotels with consumers each spring.

Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president of the Back Bay Association, said the marathon is important to the businesses that make up her organization’s membership. Restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and others depend on the massive turnout in the days surrounding the marathon.

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Nonetheless, she said, pushing back the 2021 race was the right thing to do.

A man walks past the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street Wednesday.
A man walks past the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street Wednesday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“It’s really responsible that people are taking this pandemic seriously. And it’s setting an example for others,” Mainzer-Cohen said.

She’s hopeful that next year’s race will be held in the fall rather than canceled entirely, and that’s an intriguing prospect.

“A marathon in the fall would be brilliant. It would be so magnificent with all those changing colors and the fall air,” she said. “It would be a very exciting situation if we could have a marathon in the fall of 2021.”

Some runners are unsure about participating in a public event if the pandemic is not contained by next fall. Kathleen Karpe, a Hopkinton Running Club member who has tackled Boston six times, is grateful the BAA reached a decision early so that she could adjust her fundraising plans accordingly, but has reservations about what a 2021 event might look like.

“Given public health and safety concerns, and how numbers are going up in the state, it wasn’t a surprise," Karpe said.

Karpe is hoping for guidance on how to qualify for 2021, which the BAA plans to provide along with a firm start date by the end of 2020. But whether it’s a staggered start, or a race with no spectators, Karpe said she and her group will have to evaluate the safety of participating if the event is even held.

Fans cheer on runners during the 2019 Boston Marathon.
Fans cheer on runners during the 2019 Boston Marathon.Stew Milne/Associated Press

“At lot of us are considering the [danger] no matter what we do, whether it’s going to a grocery store, or meeting friends to run,” said Karpe. “To be grouped together with large masses of people ... I’m not mentally ready for that, given where we are with this whole [pandemic].

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“If we’re in a good position, with a vaccine that’s accessible and state numbers under control, I’d love to see [a full marathon experience] happen. But do I want to see it happen without all those things in place? I personally don’t.”

In September, the BAA announced it was postponing registration for the 2021 Boston Marathon and had formed a task force to advise the organization about logistics surrounding the 2021 race.

With the pandemic shutting down marathons and other road races around the world, there have been few opportunities for runners to achieve a qualifying time. London went from more than 40,000 finishers in 2019 to just 29 men and 18 women this year.

Other events in the World Marathon Majors series for the “largest and most renowned marathons,” were canceled in 2020, including the New York City Marathon, Berlin Marathon, and Chicago Marathon.


Andy Rosen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Katie McInerney can be reached at katie.mcinerney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @k8tmac.